Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

Monk-y Business

Many of you know my deep and abiding ambivalence towards on-camera acting (what? being in front of the camera is not an ideal career for an introvert? Imagine!), as opposed to the almost-constant pleasure of voiceover acting. I say no a vast number of times more than I say yes to TV auditions. And yet, there is sometimes the case where I’ve got to go. There is a kind of role that I have a particular affinity for: Buddhist monks. I played one for “Family Law” about seventy years ago and have always hankered to put on the saffron robes once again. I maintain that it’s because it puts me in touch with an inner stillness; Doug insists it’s because it gives me license to shave my head. Both, I must admit, are correct.

This monk was of the Shaolin variety, for a  tween TV sitcom (rather foreboding non-disclosure rules prevents me from being more specific). You know, one of those after-school shows, ubiquitous on the Cartoon Network, Disney and Nickelodeon featuring a uniformly pretty and/or geeky cast genetically designed to make you feel REALLY REALLY OLD. Luckily, I was auditioning for one of the higher-up, senior monks, which on this show meant I was over thirty.

I had a good laugh at myself driving to the audition because of a particularly egregious oversight I had made. I was going over my sides— I had a really good voice for this elder, all gravelly and crusty— when I happened to look into the rear-view mirror. Ten blocks from the studio, I remembered: this isn’t a voiceover audition. You can’t sound like a 65 -year-old wizened sensei when you look like you’re in your 40’s. Oops. I adjusted accordingly. Ten years younger!

When I got there, there was the usual panoply of Asian men, all shapes and sizes. A few  of them were wearing full martial arts regalia, some had on the traditional Chinese frog-buttoned jackets. I had opted for a simple T-shirt and white pants because, well, Doug had made me change out of a more character-driven yoga pants and peasant-brown sweatshirt. I have to admit (yes, get out your scorecard, Doug) that he was right: if you get too costume-y in these general auditions, it tends too look a little… desperate. I don’t know where everyone else stands on this issue; certainly I’ve known some experienced people to pull on a lab coat when making the “CSI” rounds…

The auditions were run by kids who I swear were not much younger than my son Benjamin. They seemed amused by my character, or, to put it more exactly, they liked my eyebrow-arching, which pretty much sums up my character. It was silly, and it was fun.

And I got the part. 

I’m going Telly Savalas, Doug! Who loves ya?

Speaking of monks, here’s my contemplation of the Buddhist precept on gossip:
Precept #6: Do not Talk about Other’s Errors and Faults
so sweet.
The tastiest morsels dripped
into eager mouths
gaping like baby birds. 
Huddled groups
of two, or three adults
on the school playground
after the kids have left
the playing field.
We’re wide-eyed, listening 
to the latest parental downfall: who 
has slipped down the slope this time?
Heads shaking, frown-smiles
like we were saddened,
not delighted, by the news. 
A sharp intake of breath:
“Did you hear?—”
and onto another round. 
“Can you believe it?” we ask,
feeling better about Ourselves, 
for not being Them.
With a friend, I recount
the latest bulletin from Crazytown:
“Wait til you hear WHAT
my mother did THIS time!” 
We bond over the sad state
of affairs known as Family.
I’d like to think it helps,
this sharing, to make sense
of chaos, to make us feel less
Our small coffeehouse table
affords a space to release 
woes, make them manageable—
humorous even— with a chance to hear 
a different perspective, lovingly laid out, 
a lesson learned, together. 
Sometimes, though, 
I feel like Homer, trotting out
the same epic saga, again
and again, for entertainment,
never letting it go. 
In the Meditation Hall
we learn mostly by mistakes.
What to chant, how to walk,
where to bow and when.
There’s a lot to remember.
In the beginning, I was like
the new dancer, always two steps 
behind the rest of the chorus.
I’d get a lot of corrections:
a tap on the shoulder;
a finger pointing to the spot
I should be standing in;
sometimes a quiet voice
from across the room
cutting through the silence :
“Wait to stand!”
These directions were given,
never sweetly, never angrily,
just given.
At first, I would feel shame rising, 
I thought it was a black mark
against me; now I see it
for what it is:
a correction of a mistake,
a teaching given in the moment,
and then dispersed, 
allowing me to better join

                  the wholeness of the sangha, 

                  contemplating a formless field 
                  of benefaction. 
Next: On the set!
May 30th, 2012 - Still Life Las Vegas


3 responses to “Monk-y Business”

  1. Genevieve says:

    Good for you, darlin!! i must say, you guys keep me laughing and I appreciate it, mightily.
    It's interesting to me that you identify as an introvert.{That surprised me, but only a little.}It's been a secret that I do too, and I've been shedding those 'persona' behaviors I learned to overcompensate. xox GVJ
    [This comment has become my blog.]

  2. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful poem. When you wrote "Homer", I at first thought of "Homer Simpson" and then I realized my mistake…
    Love ya,

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